Many of you might not know this, but today is an anniversary for me. One year ago, I was involved in a horseback riding accident that resulted in a concussion and four fractures along the spinous process of my L4 vertebra (that’s the part that looks like a stegosaurus ridge). I was over-confident and rash, and yes, after a year I’ll go ahead and say it—Black Mustang Ranch was negligent. They had no business pulling a notoriously “hot” horse off of one ride and immediately putting her on another one, especially not as warm as that day was, and I had no business getting on her. We were both to blame, and about twenty minutes into the ride Mae West took off for home and refused to stop. We galloped down the trail, and apparently I held on for a good long while until she took a sharp turn to the left and I kept going forward. I say “apparently” because I don’t remember anything but the vague sensation of going too fast and not being able to stop.
The reality of that day is that I could have died. A few feet to either side and I would have hit the trees at pretty much thirty-five miles an hour, if not faster, and I could have been killed or paralyzed. It was a traumatic experience that didn’t really hit me until the next spring, when the new session of SpiritHorse brought me a student who had been paralyzed almost from the neck down after a riding accident. I pretty much used up every ounce of luck that I had to dodge that result, and today I want to look back at the last year and talk about everything that I’ve lost and gained. It’s all been a little crazy, to say the least.
What I lost: My mobility for over three months. For the first five weeks or so I was in a lot of pain and I had to give up every good physical thing in my life, including horses and taekwondo. I also lost the healthy progress that I had made since the beginning of last summer.
What I gained: New perspective and experience. That awful accident taught me a few lessons that might save my life one day, and it gave me a fresh appreciation for the life that I do have.
What I lost: A good chunk of my fearless nature. I have never, ever confessed this to anyone, but I’m going to do it now: The idea of cantering scares me. Lindsay and I did a lot of trail riding at Marshall Creek this past spring, and we passed the skills test for the advanced ride pretty quickly. I didn’t tell her, but that first advanced ride we took terrified me until I realized that Thor, the Belgian draft that I was riding, was so huge that his trot was the same speed as the other horses’ canter. That was one of many reasons that he became my favorite at Marshall Creek.
What I gained: Real courage, in a way. I kept on riding, even though the signal for a canter made me anxious every time. The day that a wrangler asked if we wanted to canter down a particularly winding path rather than a straightaway, I asked for tips instead of saying no out of fear. And you know what? I had a blast. That was one of my favorite rides. And a few weeks later when it was just me and Thor by the lakeside, I pushed him up into a canter and let him take me flying. It was like charging into battle. I bullied my way past the fear and chose to find joy instead.
What I lost: My job. In January I was let go from Banfield for signing my mom’s new puppy up on one of my free Wellness Plans. On the way out, I couldn’t stop smiling. And let’s be honest; with my manager about to transfer to a different hospital, me and my attitude wouldn’t have lasted much longer anyway.
What I gained: The best job that I have ever had. SpiritHorse hired me about a month later, and I was finally able to devote full-time hours to the place that I loved so much.
What I lost: My entire comfortable world. I had family, friends, horses, my favorite coffee shop, bro dates on Thursdays, my cat, and a good life in a good city. Most of these aspects have simply been misplaced; only one is gone for good.
What I gained: A broader world. I have more friends, a gorgeous new city, my favorite restaurant, the occasional performance onstage, pub quiz on Mondays, trips around Italy and Croatia, and the singular experience of laying topless in a hamami in Istanbul because no one else gave a sh*t.
What I lost: My dad. This is the only time that I will ever discuss him on a virtual medium. He died on February 2nd, and it was our decision. He was in pain, with massive organ failure and the slim chance of a few more weeks or even a month hooked up to machines at all times, so Mom and I said enough. We said it, the both of us together; we made the decision to let him go. Afterward, I remember staring at a purple square on the privacy curtain and thinking, If I can just stare at that square, just for a little bit longer, I’ll make it. It’ll be okay. Because this wasn’t the kind of grief that quietly leaks out; it was the kind that howls and screams and beats things until one or the other of them breaks. And I did it. I made it all the way home with only one or two tears, because my younger sister had just lost her dad and my mom had lost her soulmate. I’m going to take a shower, I said as we wandered from one room to the next in circles. I’m going to take a shower, and no matter what you hear, don’t come in.
There is nothing I could gain that would make the loss of my dad worth it. There’s no adventure that I could have, no friend I could make, and no man who could love me enough to balance out February 2nd, 2014. And you know what the real bitch of it is? The first thing he said to me three years ago when I came back from England was Don’t ever go so far away again.
I kept my promise.
We’re all either destined or doomed to become our parents, and you know what? I’m totally cool with that. My dad was a motorcycle-riding, softball-playing gentle giant, and my mom is a crisis-fixing, diamonds- and Coach-wearing badass. If this last year has shown me anything it’s that I have the blood of the Giant and the blood of the Dragon Lady in me, and the world had better watch out.